Toulouse gunman was informant of French intelligence?

An undated and non-datelined frame grab from a video broadcast March 21, 2012 by French national television station France 2 who they claim to show Mohamed Merah (Reuters / France 2 Television / Handout)
Mohamed Merah, the notorious killer shot in a stand-off with police a week ago in Toulouse, is still stirring controversy in France. An ex-chief of the French spy agency says Merah might have acted as an informant to the local equivalent of the FBI.

­The speculation comes as Yves Bonnet, a former intelligence chief, says Merah might have passed information onto the DCRI, a French domestic intelligence agency.

He was known to the DCRI, not especially because he was an Islamist, but because he had a correspondent in domestic intelligence,” Bonnet told La Dépêce newspaper on Monday.

When you have a correspondent, it’s not completely innocent,” he remarked.

On Tuesday the assumption, worthy of a huge scandal, was rebuffed by DCRI head Bernard Squarcini.

Merah was indeed interviewed by a local intelligence agent in November 2011, Squarcini said, but this was because the agency “wanted to receive explanations about his trip to Afghanistan.

As Merah stated he went to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 as a tourist, he was let go but placed on a watch list. Merah “did not serve as an informant to the DCRI or any other French intelligence service,” stressed the DCRI head.

Previously, French officials said “no evidence” indicated that Merah was linked to terror groups or that the shooting spree, which took the lives of seven people in Toulouse earlier this month, was ordered by al-Qaeda.

Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent had been tracked for several years before the tragic events in France’s south. Authorities put him down as a radical Islamist. Besides his trips to Afghanistan, the man was also understood to have visited Pakistan and received training in militant camps. This made the US add Merah’s name to its no-fly list as a suspected terrorist.

At the same time, French domestic intelligence seems to have viewed Merah as one of many. The DCRI "follows a lot of people who are involved in Islamist radicalism,” said French Interior Minister Claude Geant on Friday, defending the work of the spy agency. “Expressing ideas, showing Salafist opinions is not enough to bring someone before justice."

Merah carried out three deadly attacks in and around Toulouse, killing three French soldiers, three Jewish children and a rabbi. Local police and security forces spent thirty-two hours sieging the house Merah resided in before a sniper shot him in the head.